Google This Phrase: "How+to+Crack+an+ATM+Safe"A recent Los Angeles Times article asked, “Where did all the bandits go?” Further, they wrote, “At one time, bank robberies were part of L.A.’s daily routine. Not so anymore.” As early as 1963, the Times had identified Los Angeles as the “Bank Holdup Capitol”. In 1992, which was the biggest year for bank robberies, there were as many as twenty-eight bank robberies there in a single day. In recent years, smaller jurisdictions, such as San Francisco, Atlanta and other cities have taken over the robbery crown.
Unable to give definitive reasons for L.A.’s robbery decline, experts attribute it to a combination of factors, including improved security devices and strategies. Bulletproof Plexiglas “bandit barriers” are now common in bank branches, as are high-definition video camera systems. The website "LA Bank Robbers" now specializes in photos and video of active Los Angeles area bank robbers. In California, prison sentences for repeat offenders can be as high as sixteen years, thus taking a convicted robber off the streets for more than a decade. While the average heist in 2003 netted around $10,000, in 2013, that sum had dropped to as little as $1,000. In light of the increased risk, face-to-face bank robbery no longer pays.
Old-fashioned bank banditry required little more than nerves of steel, a disguise as simple as a baseball cap and a note demanding the cash. Would be bandits who are stuck in the old energy mode can expect to have a short career in bank robbery. If they persist in serial pursuit of ever dwindling returns, arrest and detention are now almost inevitable. Unless one is determined to spend significant time in prison, bank robbery is an unromantic way to lose one’s freedom.
Since 2008, I have written occasional articles on the subject of bank robbery. They proved to be so popular that I combined them into a separate website at MoabBank.com. During my research, I discovered that the latest trend in illegal withdrawals of money from banks involves Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) theft. When I say “ATM theft”, some thieves go so far as to abscond with the ATM itself.
The most overt style of ATM theft involves the use of a heavy truck to ram an outdoor, wall-mounted ATM off its moorings. The truck of choice for these so-called ATM “ram raids” is a flatbed tow truck. Once in position, the armored steel stern of the truck bed is rammed into the wall supporting the ATM. Assuming that the ATM comes loose from its moorings, the tow truck “operator” then tilts the truck bed down at the rear. The operator then feeds out a steel cable from the truck-mounted winch, grapples the ATM and then reels it in like fish. As soon as the ATM is on the truck's ramp, the ram raid team will be back in the cab, driving away.
Like the bank branch robbery, the ATM ram raid requires speed. As soon as the truck hits the ATM, alarms both silent and loud will start to ring. Even in the middle of the night, the process is loud and boisterous, drawing the attention of both witnesses and law enforcement officers. Once away from the scene of the crime, a tow truck carrying a damaged ATM needs quick access to a secure location large enough to hide the whole rig.
Once the ram raid ATM reaches its hideout, the robbers will need a plasma torch, which can cut open the steel plate door of the ATM safe. Inside the safe, the robbers will find between one and four cash cassettes, holding up to $40,000 each. Imagine the jubilation of dividing up $160,000 between a small team of robbers. Then, imagine the consternation over getting rid of the tow truck and vacating the hideout without leaving behind any clues.
A variation on the ATM ram raid is the in-situ plasma torch robbery. Rather than stealing a tow truck and risking easy detection and capture, in-situ ATM robbers take the “Mission Impossible” route. After locating a bank branch in a strip mall or other single-story building, the robbers first "case the joint" for security cameras and roof access points. Posing as tradesmen and utilizing ladders, the robbers can easily move their demolition and break-in tools to the roof. After staging their tools and equipment above street level, several members of the team remain on the roof, while others remove the access ladders and retreat to a safe location.
Overnight, the roof-team opens a hole in the roof sufficient to lower one or more members into the “back room” of the ATM. Once inside, security cameras are blocked and other security systems compromised. With portable fans working to evacuate any fumes up and trough the escape-hole, the robbers proceed to cut the reinforced hinges off the ATM safe. Once inside the ATM, the robbers remove the cash cassettes, bag the money and raise everything back up to the roof. Before sunrise, the “tradesmen's truck” returns and a ladder allows the roof-team totransport both themselves and the money to the truck. If all goes well for the bandits, no hideout is required and there is no ram raid truck requiring disposal.
For those who thought bank robbing should be easy, tow trucks, ladders, circular saws, sledgehammers, plasma torches and hideouts make for a daunting shopping list. In search of the easiest bank robbery, many have turned to electronics and software as their answer. Since most bank robbers are inherently lazy, the “debit card skimmer” has great appeal. In theory, the electronic bank robber need only use double-stick tape to install the skimmer over the actual ATM card reader. Once the unsuspecting ATM customer inserts their card into the skimmer, it reads and records both the magnetic strip on the card and the password entered by the customer. Later, the robber creates a duplicate ATM card and uses the stolen password to drain the unsuspecting customer's account.
If one is willing to do business with nefarious websites that sell thinly disguised skimmer kits, skim-kit robbery requires a relatively low investment. Some kits go as far as providing housings color-matched to the ATM’s of a targeted bank. Still, no would-be robber can be sure if he or she is buying online from other electronic criminals or from an FBI sting-website designed to catch the neophyte electronic robber. Anyone gullible enough to "click to buy" a kit designed to defraud a banking establishment might be surprised to find that there is no such kit and that their identity has been stolen. As P.T. Barnum said, "There is a sucker born every minute".
Even if successful in capturing debit card numbers and passwords via a wireless connection, the electronic robber must remain near enough to the scene to receive the data and recover the debit card skimmer. With skimmer kits costing hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, the subsequent risk of capture or loss of the deployed skimmer is high. As with traditional bank robbery, newer ATMs include security features designed to thwart electronic skimming. Using both physical and electronic sensors, a newer ATM will detect an installed skimmer and shut down the ATM.
Effective April 2014, Microsoft Corporation will no longer support its Windows XP operating System. For illegal hackers and identity thieves, the effect will be a bonanza in new ways to compromise XP computers and their users' identities. Microsoft will continue to provide software patches and a modicum of security to banks still running Windows XP and willing to pay a fee. When researching this article, I was surprised to discover that many “state of the art” ATMs rely on the thirteen-year-old Windows XP operating system. With typical shortsightedness, Microsoft is giving up their 95% lock on the ATM software business, preferring to see their clients switch to open source code offered by Linux.
Unlike a personal computer attached to the internet, ATMs connect to their home offices via a virtual private network (VPN). As such, even if they are running an old operating system like Windows XP, ATM's are less vulnerable to outside attack than any website or other internet-connected device. In order to compromise older private networks and the ATMs that they control, one must take control of the private network, itself. According to another recent L.A. Times article, that is exactly what unknown conspirators recently did.
Individuals with insider knowledge of older bank ATM network architecture hatched a brilliant, yet simple plan. First, they obtained the email addresses of ATM network administrators authorized to change both withdrawal limits and geographical restrictions on networked ATMs. Next, the conspirators sent innocuous, but official looking emails to the various ATM network administrators. Within the phishing emails were nefarious links disguised as normal business. Once an administrator clicked on the nefarious link, malware automatically downloaded to the administrator’s computer.
From there, it was a simple process for the conspirators to change withdrawal limits and geographical limits to “unlimited” status. On a predetermined holiday weekend, with bank branches closed and security lax, the conspirators struck. At such a time, a busy bank branch may have four ATMs containing up to $160,000 each. Overnight, when foot traffic was slower, conspirators used previously stolen ATM cards to access the ATM cash on an unlimited basis. Using only twelve stolen ATM cards, the most prolific conspirators recently drained a reported $45 million from one or more banking institutions. As of this writing, no one has been charged in the caper.
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If you recognize any of your own queries in the list above, please think of yourself as being in the “wanna be” or “amateur” bank robber category. Then think twice and go no further with your ATM or bank robbery plans. Otherwise, we may not see you again online for another sixteen years.